The Role of Brands in Mental Health Awareness

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness in a given year.

Think about that for a moment.

A quick calculation shows that 20% of the adult American population equates to north of 51 million people. That’s a startling number of people who are suffering in one way or another, painting a troubling portrait of our society.

And, in order to bring light to these issues, Mental Health America has been observing Mental Health Month in the month of May since 1949. By reaching millions of people through social media, local events, and screenings, they hope to bring awareness to these issues so that people in need might better help themselves.

As marketers, this begs an important question: in an era in which consumers are demanding that brands stand for something greater than just their products, what kind of role should brands play in the realm of mental health?

Let’s take a look at three brands that have taken on mental health with grace.

Kate Spade Invests in Women’s Mental Health

Kate Spade announced their goal to provide mental health care support for over 100,000 women by 2025. They’ve appointed a social impact council of successful businesswomen, creators, professors, and mental health advocates to spread the message and help real women get access to the assistance they need.

They’re also investing millions of dollars into this campaign aimed at making up for the shortfall in women’s mental health services. The campaign is also designed to help women and care providers recognize how even common mental health issues are misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed because women often have such different symptoms than men. 

Check out their extensive roadmap on how they plan on tackling such a complex problem, and their mental health resources page that could be helpful for you or a loved one, too. 

Bell Starts Conversation with #BellLetsTalk on Social Media

As Canada’s largest telecommunications and mass media group, Bell’s platform is as big as it gets for our neighbors to the north. Starting in 2010, Bell began a conversation about Canada’s mental health. At the time, most people weren’t talking about mental illness, but the statistics spoke volumes about the need to act.

From there spawned the idea for Bell Let’s Talk Day.

On this day each year, millions of Canadians (and Americans, too) engage in an open conversation on social media, with every instance of the use of #BellLetsTalk resulting in a donation to mental health programs.

Sherryl Blacksmith, Executive Director of Ogijiita Pimatiswin Kinamatwin, shared how #BellLetsTalk helped her organization support indigenous youth during COVID-19:

“Lateral empathy helped us cope with COVID-19 and the need for support exponentially. OPK has responded to that demand based on this teaching, supporting 2,691 participants, thanks to support from Bell Let’s Talk.”

The most surprising part? Professional hockey teams and players are among the greatest advocates of #BellLetsTalk, doing their part to remove the stigma that mental illness is some sort of weakness. 

The best part? Since in 2020, Bell announced they’d be increasing funding by $155 million or more, extending this mental health program for at least five more years.

Twitch Takes on the Stress of Streaming

Anyone who has ever played video games online knows that the anonymity associated with playing behind a headset can lead gamers to say some regrettable things. Sometimes, it’s something relatively harmless, but at other times, it can escalate to a point bordering on bullying.

Streaming itself is also tough on mental health, as the hours a streamer has to put in to find and keep an audience are shockingly high

Twitch, the popular streaming platform, has taken a stance on the issue. The brand encouraged its community of gamers to spend some time on their stream or in the chat to talk about their mental health, their life experiences, and what mental health means to them. While it may seem like a stretch at face value, many Twitch streamers and viewers form legitimate friendships based on time spent gaming together. For those viewers, a message of support for mental health might feel as genuine as a message coming from a family member or friend.

Popular Twitch streamer “Trainwreck” (Tyler Niknam) recently established the “Community Care Program,” aimed at helping the Twitch community find the mental health resources they need at no cost.

Twitch offers additional support on its website, too, with an entire page filled with links to resources for mental health issues of all types. 

By turning the purported toxic reputation of the gaming community on its head, the brand may very well be making a difference in the lives of many – however small that difference may be.

Keeping the Conversation Going

In the end, brands can only do so much to better the mental health of individuals; it takes personal acknowledgment, expanded access, and a culture-wide commitment to destigmatizing mental illness. 

However, what Kate Spade, Bell, and Twitch did so successfully was to advance the conversation. Whether it’s from your favorite video gamer or your favorite hockey player, hearing from someone you admire that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of goes a long way towards erasing the stigma that has been so unduly associated with mental disease.

(Updated Aug 2022, from article originally written by Rob Patterson)

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